Texas jails adding air conditioning to more units after heat concerns

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Construction is underway on air conditioning projects in five additional facilities operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, intended to cool more inmates and guards after both groups have raised concerns about the conditions during Texas’ hot summer months.

The projects will cool an additional 2,149 beds, with another 11,565 eyed for 13 additional AC projects currently in the “design” phase.

Out of TDCJ’s current population of 132,481 people, 44,848 beds are in air conditioning, according to figures provided by the department. That means TDCJ has enough air conditioning across its units to cool one in three inmates. About 25,000 inmates are housed in units with no air conditioning at all.

In 2023, the legislature granted TDCJ a “historic infusion” of $85 million for repair and improvement projects. That money will add about 14,000 additional cooled beds — bringing the total percentage of inmates who could be cooled to 44%.

Since 2018, the department has added a separate 8,433 cooled beds.

TDCJ spokesperson Amanda Hernandez said there is no estimated completion date for the current projects.

On Wednesday afternoon, advocates and families of incarcerated Texans will host an informational session in Austin, intending to draw attention to the heat inside prisons they have previously called deadly.

“It’s inhumane,” State Rep. Carl Sherman, D-Desoto, told Nexstar last summer. “We’re baking people. That’s not right.”

Sherman pushed for legislation to fund and mandate universal air conditioning inside TDCJ units, but the measure failed to pass.

Texas Prisons Community Advocates will host a “mock cell” exhibition in partnership with the LBJ School’s Prison and Jail Initiative Lab at the Harry Ransom Center on Wednesday from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.

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